Ethiopians say ’salaam’ to popular Indian envoy

July 5th, 2009 - 1:45 pm ICT by IANS  

By Groum Abate
Addis Ababa, July 5 (IANS) Ordinary Ethiopians knock on his car window as he drives through the streets of Addis Ababa. They recognise the turbaned Indian envoy instantly and affectionately say “Salaam Babuji”.

Four years is not a long time in diplomacy, but Indian envoy Gurjit Singh has reasons to feel proud that under his watch bilateral ties have blossomed in nearly all areas, with trade and investment surging manifold from $400 million to over $4.2 billion.

“I was always touched while driving through the streets of Addis Ababa to find people often knocking at my window and saying ‘Salaam Babuji’. Through the media, we have reached vast multitudes of people in Ethiopia and I felt honoured whenever people recognised me,” recalls Singh.

He is upbeat about Ethiopia’s future.

“I see Ethiopia now in the same position India was decades ago. I’m very bullish about Ethiopia’s future. It has a very wise leadership and I see a bright future for it,” Singh told IANS in an interview.

“India is and will remain a partner of choice for Ethiopia,” he stressed.

India is now the single largest foreign investor in Ethiopia with Indian entrepreneurs getting licences from the Ethiopian authorities to invest $4.2 billion in 439 investment projects in the country.

The envoy is clearly in a nostalgic mood as he gets ready to leave for New Delhi after an eventful four-year tenure in Ethiopia, East Africa’s emerging economy that is attracting large Indian investments outstripping old favourites like Kenya.

“Being in Ethiopia for so many years has been an unforgettable experience. The memories of this place will be firmly embedded in my heart and mind,” he said.

The ambassador, who returned to Addis Ababa recently after taking part in the 13th AU Summit in Libya, left for India on Saturday. He will be back here towards July-end before formally leaving the country for his new post in the headquarters in the Indian external affairs ministry Aug 9.

Singh is widely recognised by Ethiopians to have worked tirelessly to transform relations between India and Ethiopia, an emerging economic hub in East Africa. There was a dramatic increase in bilateral engagement during his tenure in nearly all areas, including educational linkages, scholarship programmes, ITEC (Indian Technical and Educational Programme) training facilities, investments and capacity building.

“We’ve managed to shorten the distance over the Indian Ocean between the two countries. I really take pride for being an ambassador here in Ethiopia at a time when the relationship between the two countries underwent a dynamic shift, a shift from a family kind of relationship to a more institutionalised South-South Cooperation,” he said.

“Today, the two countries have a common stance on issues ranging from terrorism to ways of resolving the current global economic crisis.”

Indians, who were known as traders and educationists, are now active in just every sphere of life and inspire respect and affection. India has its oldest embassy in Africa in the Ethiopian capital.

Bilateral ties have acquired a sharper focus with the emphasis on development partnership - an approach India claims sets it apart from other countries like China that is seen to be driven mostly by the profit motive.

The Ethiopian Military Court Administration (EMCA) members will head to India shortly and representatives of the Indian Customs Authority are already here helping their Ethiopian counterparts with modernizing their database system.

The EXIM Bank of India is planning to open its East African office here in Ethiopia, an important development in which Singh has played a crucial role.

Gurjit Singh can now go to Delhi with a sense of accomplishment. “I won’t say I have accomplished my mission. It’s not possible to do everything in a few years,” he said.

–Ind-Asian News Service

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